Advent begins!

This year, the season of Advent begins on 30 November, which means the Close the Gap challenge has started. Hopefully we are all ready to go.

My friends Geoff commented on my initial post…

Do you have a post on the meaning of advent and how it connects to this for a little more context? I like the challenge but need a bit more.

… and fair enough too!

Advent is a season in the Western Christian (which means Catholics and most Protestants have it) church calendar. In the Eastern Orthodox calendar there’s a similar season (with slightly different timing) called the Nativity Fast. Both versions go up to Christmas Eve (Dec 24). Advent is the beginning of the church year, so the start of Advent kicks off a new calendar cycle.

Advent is a solemn season, like Lent, and traditionally involves quiet, a reflective mood and fasting – typically giving up meat and dairy. Advent precedes Christmas, just as Lent precedes Easter, and both are seen as periods of preparation for the feast which follows them.

Weird, I know, this time of year work is hectic, social life is a whirl of parties, drinking and eating. But the old tradition was to always have a fast before a big party.

The name “Advent” derives from adventus in Latin which means “coming” and it’s used to translate the Greek παρουσία (parousia) which used to mean “physical arrival”, but mostly came to refer to the Second Coming in Christian theology – the idea that Christ would one day return.

Mainstream Christianity in the West seems to have spent the last few centuries hollowing out the mystical tradition and turning symbolism into history, so most people understand the Second Coming simply and magically as the physical return of Jesus complete with some kind of odd “Left Behind” narrative.

From a mystic’s perspective, the purpose of life, spiritual practice and faith itself is directed toward the Presence of God in one’s own, human being. The church calendar is not primarily about commemorating historical events, but about reminding us of nature and properties of the ever-present divine reality. When we awaken to that reality as experience, we can be said to be “anointed” with the Divine. We will have become a Christ, rather than simply being Christians – the words of the Gospel of Philip.

Advent, occurring at the very start of the year, suggests that anticipation of that awakening is the beginning of the journey. We have faith that the Lord is coming and so, unlike the five unwise maidens of the parable, we prepare His dwelling place: our body, heart and mind. We sweep out the stable and lay fresh straw in the manger.

Hence… Close the Gap, an offer or suggestion that – whether or not you think of yourself as Christian – you consider making these next four weeks a time of deeper practice, devotion and quiet. Your heart knows what you most need to get closer, so take those steps in faith and hope that a new birth is near.

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